Myanmar’s ‘little regard’ for Asean on show as it turns to China, India, Russia for leverage


“[The regime] has little regard for the damage its intransigence is doing to the unity, credibility and reputation of the regional bloc,” Mumford said.

Despite agreeing to it, Myanmar’s junta has continued to ignore the Five-Point Consensus peace plan, which calls for a dialogue among all parties in the crisis and an immediate halt to violence in the country, among other things.
On Tuesday, Southeast Asian leaders decided that strife-torn Myanmar would not take over the rotating leadership of the bloc as scheduled in 2026, partly due to the ongoing violent civil war in the country after the 2021 coup and the regime’s continued detention of former civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Myanmar’s empty seat is seen between Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim (left) and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jnr at the 26th Asean-Japan Summit in Jakarta on Wednesday. Photo: Reuters

Jason Tower, country director for Myanmar at the United States Institute for Peace, said that by leveraging the meetings with China, India and Thailand, the junta was attempting to demonstrate it “continues to enjoy legitimacy in the eyes of its immediate neighbours”.

Noting that there was a lack of consensus within Asean on the Myanmar issue, Tower said mainland Southeast Asian countries, such as Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand, are “beginning to wake up to the fact that the Myanmar army is increasingly undermining regional security”.

Myanmar’s junta was incapable of addressing the growing security issues, such as refugees fleeing the military’s atrocities, transnational crime groups and human trafficking, he said.

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“Criminal groups have trafficked tens of thousands of people from across Asean, China and across the globe into industrial-scale scam compounds [in Myanmar], where they are forced to perpetrate complex online fraud targeting a global population,” Tower noted.

Under the protection largely of the Myanmar army’s border force units in Kokong on the China border and Kayin on the Thai border, Tower said that these scams had resulted in tens of billion dollars of financial losses around the world.

“[They have] also undermined international progress in addressing serious human rights violations, including human trafficking, modern slavery [and] forced labour,” Tower said, noting that Thai, Indian and Chinese police are now “desperately” trying to rescue hundreds of their nationals held in Myanmar.

Spreading these images across the national media is a kind of ‘psychological warfare’ that the junta stages against the opposition

Htwe Htwe Thein, Myanmar researcher

Htwe Htwe Thein, an associate professor at Australia’s Curtin University who specialises in business and economic development in Myanmar, said the junta’s meetings with foreign leaders were “promoted prominently and widely inside Myanmar”.

“[These are] attempts to convince the public that the junta still has ‘friends’, and that a handful of countries are willing to engage with the junta and normalise relations,” she said, adding that the regime hoped that these meetings would help fend off the widely-held perception of the junta as an “international outcast”.

“Spreading these images across the national media is a kind of ‘psychological warfare’ that the junta stages against the opposition,” Htwe Htwe Thein said.

As for the countries still willing to meet, greet and be photographed with the generals, she said that the message they are sending is that “resources, trade deals and their own national security interests are more important than human rights and the restoration of democracy in Myanmar”.

Myanmar junta chief Min Aung Hlaing (left) shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of an economic forum in Vladivostok last year. Photo: Kremlin via dpa
Myanmar Now, an independent news service, reported last week that Asean had invited Myanmar junta representatives to attend a security conference and training programme in the United States, citing US Department of Defence sources.

The Asean Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus) Maritime Security Conference and Future Leaders’ Programme will take place from Tuesday to Thursday in Hawaii.

“If this is true, then it is another form of normalising the regime and lending it legitimacy,” Htwe Htwe Thein said, adding that it was perhaps unsurprising given “Asean’s muddled and disappointing response to the conflict in Myanmar”.

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“Asean has let the people of Myanmar down with the failure to advance the Five-Point Consensus, which is not effective and not reinforced,” Htwe Htwe Thein said, noting that the international community had been inconsistent in their approach towards the junta.

“[That’s] despite all the warnings that consistency and coordination are key to effectiveness in resolving the Myanmar crisis,” she added.


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